Sustaining the arts ~ theatre notes

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sustaining the arts

Currency House has published another must-have Platform Paper: a lucid and fascinating examination of the vexed question of arts funding. A Sustainable Arts Sector: What Will It Take? is written by Cathy Hunt and Phyllida Shaw, and is compulsory reading for anybody interested in the nuts and bolts of culture-making.

(It's particularly interesting in the light of the current funding row taking place in the UK, where the Arts Council of England has mystifyingly transformed an injection of 50 million pounds into a high octane public crisis.)

Hunt and Shaw begin with the proposition that a "sustainable" arts sector means much more than a measure of the fiscal health of individual companies. They convincingly make the point that, like education or public health, the arts sector is, in the old-fashioned term, a "public service". Not that they use that phrase.

It's well worth threading through the complexities of the argument: it may sometimes be a little dry, but it's packed with useful background, and is an illuminating survey of government arts policy, both here and in the UK. At base, this is a passionate advocacy of the place of the arts in contemporary society, and an intelligent argument for a more holistic and multi-dimensional approach to arts funding. (We're talking private as well as public investment). In particular, arguing that we should attempt to think more long-term about our arts ecology, Hunt and Shaw propose that the Federal Government consider setting up a Future Fund for the Arts.

Most importantly, it's an example of what we need badly in this country, and especially now under the new Labor Government: intelligent and pragmatic arts advocacy. A Sustainable Arts Sector deserves a close read and serious discussion: it's a significant contribution to a crucial public debate. Hunt and Shaw will be speaking in February at public forums called Rethinking Arts Policy: Putting the Artist First, in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, so watch out for those dates. And let's hope that Peter Garrett picks up a copy.

As a bonus, this Platform Paper also includes responses from Nicholas Pickard, Julian Meyrick and Neil Armfield to Lee Lewis's controversial paper on Cross-Racial Casting, which, as some of you might remember, caused some blogospherical fireworks last year.

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